Healthy, Affordable, Local Produce: Using Your Oregon Trail Card at the Corvallis Farmers’ Market
Sprawled along 1st Street on Wednesdays and Saturdays eight months of the year, the Corvallis Farmers’ Market is a bustling and vibrant local marketplace offering so much more than produce. Shoppers can peruse a wide variety of local vegetables, fruits, mushrooms, cheeses, freshly made lunches, lemonade, and baked goods. Nearby you can register to vote, support renewable energy with Pacific Power’s Blue Sky program, or listen to folk music from one of several local musicians. And don’t forget to browse the local crafts market next door.
But while the farmers’ market is usually packed with enthusiastic customers, there are some Corvallis families, particularly those with low incomes, who feel that the market is inaccessible. They worry that prices may be too high for their limited monthly food budgets. However, not only is it worth searching the market (and bargaining with farmers) for some of the best deals in Corvallis on local fresh foods, customers with SNAP money should also be aware of the market’s SNAP-specific initiatives.
Purchasing Fresh Local Produce with SNAP Funds
Using an Oregon Trail card, electronic SNAP funds can be converted at the market into wooden tokens used in place of cash to purchase goods. When funds are available, $6 in bonus tokens is provided to supplement the first $6 of SNAP money exchanged by each SNAP customer on any market day—for customers who shop at the market twice a week, that’s $48 in savings each month. Tokens are color-coded to help market employees keep track of various types of expenditures. Red tokens represent SNAP funds, purple tokens represent SNAP incentive (bonus) funds, and green tokens represent debit funds (customers can convert electronic debit card money to tokens if they forget to stop by the ATM before entering the market). Even without the incentives, SNAP funds can be converted to tokens at the market at any time, making the farmers’ market a truly excellent way for families of all income levels to purchase fresh, local, and often organic food.
While the SNAP incentive program may seem relatively straightforward, getting Federal Nutrition Service permission to accept SNAP dollars at a farmers’ market is no easy task. Rebecca Landis, market director of the Corvallis and Albany farmers’ markets, is extraordinarily dedicated. When SNAP funds, originally available in paper form, were converted to the electronic Oregon Trail card system, it became nearly impossible to accept SNAP money in places like the farmers’ market that generally accepted only cash. That is, until wireless technology became available.
Landis worked to set up the wireless card reader SNAP exchange system at the Corvallis and Albany markets in 2007, and has been instrumental in SNAP fund accessibility at many of Oregon’s surrounding markets. Unfortunately, the wireless card readers, or point of sale (POS) devices, required in this system can be difficult and expensive for farmers’ markets to operate. While Oregon Trail card-only POS devices can be obtained for free from the state, their operation still requires a telephone line and electricity—sometimes a stretch for small markets. POS devices that can also perform debit and credit transactions, like the one at the Corvallis Farmers’ Market, are generally purchased through third-party processors and come with monthly fees and extra costs. Another hurdle in this process is the application to accept SNAP funds itself. Originally designed for supermarkets, this application is relatively tedious and complex. However, the POS devices certainly make the farmers’ market accessible to a wider range of individuals, and local farmers and other vendors benefit from an increased customer base.
SNAP Incentives—How Can You Help?
Importantly, the SNAP incentives offered by the farmers’ market are limited and are supported by local fundraising efforts alone—the government currently does not fund incentives, although a recent Kellogg Foundation study found that 75 percent of Americans “support a nationwide program that would double the value of SNAP benefits used at farmers’ markets.” Landis currently works with Ten Rivers Food Web to raise money in support of the incentive program—she is enthusiastically dedicated to ensuring that families have access to fresh, local, sustainable food. The Benton County Health Department has been instrumental in winning grant money to contribute funds, and provided $5,000 in late 2010. That money ran out in June of 2011 and was followed by funds from Ten Rivers, which didn’t last the whole season. Funds for 2012 from both sources were tapped out by June 30 in Corvallis, but incentives continue in Albany, where the demand is lower. More funding is certainly needed—SNAP incentives can only be offered when funds are available.
Ten Rivers Food Web is employing a variety of fundraising techniques, including dinners, breakfasts, and lemonade stands at three of the nine markets it is assisting with the “That’s My Farmer” program. Church offerings are also getting started in Corvallis. A new fundraising idea that won the most votes in a recent Corvallis market survey was restaurant specials. Maybe someday you’ll be able to order mouth-watering local dishes whose proceeds go toward providing your neighbors with healthy, fresh, local produce.
Ten Rivers Food Web notes that “Oregon is among the top five states in the U.S. for hunger. Half a million Oregonians are food insecure—eating less, skipping meals, or going without food for whole days. It is widely recognized that low-income communities are disproportionately susceptible to chronic, diet-related diseases because access to fresh, nutritious food is inhibited by cost.” Contact email@example.com to volunteer at a lemonade stand or to help SNAP customers exchange funds for tokens, or send a tax-deductible donation to support “That’s My Farmer.”
In the month of August, local business Abundant Solar will donate $100 to Ten Rivers Food Web for every 1,000 watts sold in Linn, Benton, and Lincoln counties to customers who mention Ten Rivers or the “That’s My Farmer” program when purchasing their solar electrical system. They hope to raise at least $1,500 in support of the SNAP incentive program by the end of the month.
Oregon hopes to add 13 to 25 new markets to the SNAP system under new federal funding. Most won’t start until next season; the Corvallis Indoor Winter Market requested one of the new machines and hopes to be operating in January. If you purchase your fresh groceries with SNAP funds, make sure to take advantage of your local farmers’ market. And if you’re able, volunteer with Ten Rivers Food Web or donate to support SNAP incentive programs.